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chapter nine
Part Seven

With the villagers in the lead the Troop Carrier containing Finnegan's Squad rambled along what was left of the interstate highway toward the village of Cogan's Corner. No one on the squad had heard of it, none of the maps in the Info-Packs made mention of it either so they were left with the realization that not only had Buffalo Commons remained inhabited during the Eco-Crisis but it had remained dynamic as well.

More and more Finn was realizing “frontier” wasn't just a term being bandied about for this region, but a frighteningly more descriptive phrase than anyone had imagined. He looked at the files of what lay ahead and realized they couldn't know less about this region if it had just sprung into existence. Amazing really, what a century of neglect will do to a body of knowledge.

He sat in the command alcove of the Carrier as it glided across the terrain thankful that Hreha and whomever had figured out how to smooth out the bumps. Across from him sat Jessica Majors, the only member of their attacking party who had kept her cool during the confrontation and therefore the logical choice for bringing aboard.

Finn reviewed the auto-text of her statement. A few points she made bothered him, well not so much bothered as made him wonder. And if he wondered about them he knew regional command would have lots of questions.

He leaned forward glaring at her more intently than he intended, “Do you have any idea what their Troop strengths are?”

Majors' face scrunched the same way it did when she was looking for something on the horizon and turned direct on to a setting Sun. “I'm sorry?” She replied blankly.

Finn pulled back a bit. He didn't know how else to say it. “You refer to this Independent Army that keeps attacking you…”

That statement bothered him. By her own admission the village had only a hundred or so people in it. An Army equipped with Cody Long Rifles shouldn't have had any difficulty wiping them out.

He continued, "... I'm just trying to establish how large your opposition is."

Jessica blinked and then realized what he meant, “No. They're not Independents, it's not even an Army. They just raid us from time to time. When they run out of food, I guess. They've only killed a few of us, usually for trying to stop them. The rest of the time they steal what they want. It's more, I think the word is symbiotic!"

Finn didn't understand then, if they weren't Independents then "Why call them 'Indies'?"

“It's short for Indians.” Jessica exhorted, finally feeling apart of the conversation.

This really threw Finnegan. India was a part of the Network and had no business interfering in an ongoing peacekeeping mission, particularly on the other side of the world. He excused himself and rose, finding Jones and pulling her aside, “Are you aware of other forces operating in this region?”

Jones looked up at him blankly. “Special forces?”

Finnegan shook his head negative. He glanced back at Jessica Majors who was mesmerized by the gently gliding countryside passing the window where she sat. He continued, “She said Indians were in country.”

Jones stopped and looked at Finnegan as though he'd just spouted antenna. “You pulling my leg, Sir?”

Finn's left eyebrow rose in surprise as the comment, she was bordering on insubordination with the tone. “No, Sergeant, I am not.”

Now Jones realized that she'd just crossed a line. “Sorry, sir. I just figured…” There was nowhere to go with this explanation, at least nowhere good. Jones grabbed a portable unit, stepped past Finnegan and moved to the Command alcove and Ms. Majors.

“Which tribe are we talking about?”

“They call themselves the Inu-nayna. Or something like that.”

Finn recoiled, for a half second he thought Majors has suggested another Network contingent, one from India, was attacking locals; now he realized Jessica Majors was using a term that hadn't been acceptable for generations, probably even well before the Eco-Crisis.

Jones, whom he'd have to talk to later about her breach of protocol, glared up at him while he thought about this for a moment. One of the first encounters Network Forces had in this region was with members of a First Nations tribe and if memory served they also had Cody rifles. Not the high powered Long Rifles the villagers had acquired, but the brand wasn't that popular, which made this a coincidence, and Finn didn't believe in coincidences.

Referring to Majors Finn said, “Wait here.” He turned and moved toward the cab where Corporal Livingston looked up as he approached.

“I need to check in,” he said, “we should be L.O.S. to the Comm-Sat over Rapid City.”Livingston turned in the chair and started keying the contact.

* * *

Colonel Mariska Potvin stared back at the face on the display. The seriousness of his face said something. She vaguely remembered this one from his check-in, which said something. Potvin had signed off on over two thousand teams thus far this mission, for anyone of them to make an impression said something.

But unlike the earnest Lieutenant on the screen before her the Colonel did believe in coincidence and didn't see a problem, “Are you suggesting gun runners, Lieutenant?”

Finn's eyebrow rose, he hadn't thought of that. "It fits the facts," he replied dryly.

Potvin leaned back. “What do you need to proceed?”

Finn outlined his plan, it was a work in progress, coming together as he spoke. He wanted a rendezvous, he needed to get Corporal Cummings picked up. That was simply the right thing to do. He also wanted a HALE unit brought out, Finn was finished with doing this mission blind.

Potvin leaned back after he laid it out, “Alright, Lieutenant. I'll have an evac team rendezvous your location in two hours.”

Finn glanced back at Jessica Majors, sitting at the window in the Command alcove, mesmerized by the smoothly scrolling landscape. He turned back to the display, "Let's make rendezvous in the Village. Two hours is fine." He almost rang off forgetting to add, "Thank you, Colonel."

* * *

Chas Topper was rapidly getting buried under a mountain of electronic data. No, mountain wasn't an accurate enough term. There was something Jupiterian about the reams of data cascading past his station and Chas knew he needed to get a handle on things quickly before the remaining two thirds of the Peacekeeping Mission launched in Buffalo Commons and inundated his systems.

It wasn't a system crash he was worried about, it was soft assets and their rapidly approaching limits. Particularly one soft asset, his own brain. Chas Topper hadn't been home for more than three hours at a time since the mission was green-lit and his productivity per hour rate was plummeting from something as simple as stimuli burnout.

Which is why the piece of information about Finnegan's Squad proceeding toward a subset Araphoe tribe north of White Creek in Wyoming because of recently acquired Cody Long Rifles failed to make any connect with him.

A shame really, it was the seventeenth report of Cody Rifles in the hands of First Nation groups in the Commons since the mission began.

* * *

Keeler Redbird, senior member of the Redbird family and an long honoured member of the Board of Directors at the ROMI Corporation, strolled slowly across the plaza before the company's World Headquaters in south eastern Regina, Saskatchewan.

In the past such a plaza would have been a draw for indigent people, most of which were from the same Band as he and a day didn't go by that Keeler didn't consider how different his life might be, how different all his people's lives might be, had his ancestors not chosen the path they did.

Regina was a booming, energetic city now and the shining jewel in a society that was finally living up to its potential. Beggars and vagrants hadn't been seen panhandling around these streets in over three generations, and Keeler knew it was because of his forefathers.

Such a thought couldn't help but puff one up, and Keeler nodded in agreement with himself and he re-committed to ensuring that the tradition continued and...

Keeler stopped suddenly. On the bench nearest the front entrance to ROMI lay two people, huddling together for warmth. Keeler didn't think about calling for Security, this was Regina not Paris, but as he approached his blood started to boil. These people were dressed in traditional native garb. Not the fancy dress and dance robes used for tourists but the actual buckskins and leathers of ancient tribesmen.

“What sort of mockery is this?” He bellowed as firmly as he could in his 89 year-old frame. “How dare you parade like this, here!”

The two rolled over to face him with startled expressions. They were weather worn and tired. The older man was pale, exhausted and a little malnourished. The younger bore the proud face of leadership. But both barely understood English and said so.

Lakota! Redbird hadn't heard first language speakers of Lakota in years. Instantly he softened. These weren't protestors, or pretenders, and these people weren't from around here either. These were real Lakota, real natives, authentic as if they'd stepped from the pages of some history text. But how?

Though his skill with the language was rusty Keeler asked them, “Where are you from, my brothers?”

Both men, strangers in a wondrously strange land, began to speak rapidly, far faster than Keeler could process. But he did understand that these two had ventured into a world dominated by English without barely a passing knowledge of it. And having finally found someone to converse with they were attempting to make the most of this encounter.

It didn't take long for Keeler to realize these two were from Buffalo Commons. What a journey that must have been! He stood there wondering what he could do to help his cousins when they spoke the magic word, the only word they used that was English.


* * *

The usually daily summary of what was going on the world was handed to Grayson as he entered the Monitoring room that was the core of operations for ROMI. He quickly sorted through the potpourri of future trivia until his Port-A-Display flagged the key word Cody.

Another band (or did they still call them 'tribes' in America?) was about to face off against another Network Squad. He tried to get more information on the Network forces but large sections of the file were under Information Quarantine. He turned to Robinson and asked her to probe deeper. He didn't have to say “Without being detected”, that was de rigueur.

He looked up then and frowned one of those deep thought frowns that should tell everyone not to interrupt you. He needed to talk to his Grandfather. Grayson headed for the boardroom.

* * *

“This is called tea.” Keeler poured carefully, “It is very warm so be careful, but you should find it a relaxing experience. The scent is very calming.”

Michael Greyskies hesitantly sniffed at the cup as it was handed to him. The vessel wasn't warm but he could see the steam rising. Imagine making cups that didn't transmit the temperature of their contents. The world beyond their borders was magical.

Chief Spottyrivers almost choked when he failed to heed the warning and sipped too quickly. Keeler had anticipated this and had napkins ready.

This scene, two savages and his elderly Grandfather sipping tea amidst the splendour of one of the finest boardrooms on the planet, is what Grayson Redbird came upon as he entered the room.

“Grandfather? What is going on?”

Keeler turned, “These people have requested a gathering of Tribal leaders from the Commons.”

Grayson moved closer. The mix of smells, unbathed wilderness, tea and furniture polish nearly overwhelmed him. “I thought you said we couldn't interfere?” he whispered. It was unnecessary, their visitors wouldn't understand him anyway.

Keeler placed his cup down, rose and began to move past Grayson, “We won't be interfering. At their request we are merely intermediaries.”

Grayson was confused. He couldn't see the distinction. “I don't understand.”

“We need to re-open old channels.”


Keeler's hand gently came down on Grayson's forearm, “Things are proceeding as they should.”

Keeler continued past Grayson and toward the exit leaving his Grandson to introduce himself to their history.

* * *